Center for Environmental Policy and Administration

NASA at 50 and Beyond

Author:W. Henry Lambright
Date: 2010
Publication:Public Administration Review. (forthcoming)

In 2008, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and has been embarked on a mission to put astronauts on the moon, possibly by 2020. Is this goal “back to the future”? Or is it “the way forward” as a prelude to a mission to Mars? An advisory panel to President Obama has recommended alternatives to the moon as routes to Mars. At the time of writing, Obama has yet to decide. Of course, NASA has already arrived on Mars with robots, a tribute to the agency's remarkable technical prowess. However, the ultimate challenge would be to send men and women to Mars. Why? That, of course, is the big question. The answer lies in the human heart rather than in the rational mind. NASA's exploration of this unknown frontier has more in common with the expeditions of Columbus and Magellan than the missions of most other federal agencies. Any list of discretionary expenditures would prioritize space exploration as an extreme example of an unnecessary luxury that can be postponed. So why should NASA continue to explore space? That question takes on an acute meaning during a time of intense domestic economic and foreign policy challenges. But imagine: what would be lost to America if NASA did not exist?


W Henry Lambright
Center for Environmental Policy and Administration
The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 11/19/2010 09:51:47